Give your conference an academic edge

Acacemic VenuesBetter than most, academic venues understand the elements necessary for a good debate or educated discussion. The UK has some of the most prestigious and world renowned universities; their character, contemporary and often historic nature offers event organisers not only a unique setting for meetings and events but an unparalleled amount of choice of both modern and traditional venues – there are as many different types of venue as there are reasons to hold a meeting, gather or entertain colleagues, clients and guests.

In addition to meeting facilities and services academic venues typically offer accommodation.  During summer vacation many universities have a vast amount of bedrooms available, and some offer accommodation all year round; from refurbished student blocks to purpose-built hotels. This vast range of accommodation options, that are typically located near the venues, within a campus setting, make academic venues a viable options for residential conferences, and gives organisers the ability to offer a variety of options for delegates with differing budgets.

Gone are the days when universities could only offer a classroom with student accommodation.  Many academic venues have iconic and historic buildings offering a special setting for smaller meetings and larger conferences and events. They are continuingly investing in their facilities and increasing service standards to rival and compete with hotels and conference centres.

Typically, you’ll find lecture theatres and venues equipped with modern AV equipment and comfortable furniture and fittings. The same quality standards are evident in the kitchen too; catering options are often prepared by award-winning chefs, creating innovative menus with a passion for local produce, healthy eating and sustainable working practices. The commitment is the same front of house as well, service staff are professionally trained and have a sincere commitment to customer service.

Clients and agents are utilising university venues more and more as positive experiences generate an increase in confidence from the market. Alongside good communications programmes and the industry pulling together changes in perceptions are starting to happen – the days of chalkboards and curly sandwiches are a thing of
the past!

Value for money
Operating in the current economic climate has forced organisers and delegates to cut costs. This change in market behaviour has given academic venues an advantage as they can be flexible and suitable whilst giving the value for money that is so important.

The same increase in popularity is also evident from governmental departments with organisers opting for academic venues more and more as they face increasing scrutiny to be more transparent with their spending. In addition to their great facilities universities are also a valuable source of speakers and support material for any event, often linking with research that is being undertaken by students and staff. Profits generated from commercial activities are reinvested into universities, supporting future generations of students in their studies and contributing to better facilities. These profits contribute to refurbishing student accommodation and common areas and can provide a boost to research programmes and learning facilities. All these activities enhance the experiences that our students have while they’re at university, and in turn help attract future students to study in the UK.

An inspiring capital

I maybe somewhat bias as Edinburgh is my home town but you can’t go far wrong with Scotland’s capital as a setting for conferences and events. Edinburgh comfortably competes with the biggest and best conference destinations in the world – and it only takes one visit to understand why the city ranks in the global top ten of
such locations.

Rich in heritage and culture, combined with the traditional Scottish zeal for hospitality, helps make Edinburgh an outstanding location for any occasion, from a conference for 1,000 delegates or a day meeting for ten. The city is accessible; it’s easy to reach by air, road and rail. It’s truly an inspiring setting for any debate and there are plenty of cultural activities to indulge in, after business has been concluded!

Edinburgh First
Edinburgh First at the University of Edinburgh can open the doors to some of Edinburgh’s most iconic and modern venues. Over twenty years experience and a firm customer focus have helped us to build a strong reputation in the fields of venue, accommodation and catering services provision. We pride ourselves on our flexible approach and affordable rates which attract a wide range of customers – from higher and further education institutions and private and public sector companies and organisations to families and individuals

Contemporary or classical, all Edinburgh First venues are fit for purpose and offer the flexibility required to create truly personalised events. As well as high-specification conferencing facilities, lecture theatres and boardrooms, Edinburgh First venues feature comfortable breakout areas and relaxing lounges where delegates can unwind. Our spaces at Pollock Halls look onto Arthur’s Seat, while our centrally located venues offer windows onto some of Edinburgh’s most spectacular views.

To complement our wide variety of venues, we offer a similarly broad range of accommodation, dining facilities and catering options. To maintain the momentum of events we can offer an extensive range of on-site services; with bedrooms, private-dining rooms, restaurants, bars and cafés – as well as all of Edinburgh’s attractions nearby – opportunities are abound for team-building and networking!

A case study
Our new conference centre the John McIntyre Conference Centre was recently host to a Scottish Government national event run by the Drugs Policy Unit. The recently extended and refurbished venue is centrally located on our Pollock Halls campus, close to the city centre.  

Delegates entered at ground-floor level and took the scenic glass lift, or stairs, to the first-floor foyer. This open area was used for registration, then guests made their way through to Centro; our spacious lounge where they helped themselves to tea and coffee. Centro was used throughout the day as an additional breakout space and delegates were able to enjoy the open-air terrace with great views across Arthur’s Seat.  

The main plenary session was held in the Pentland suite, our largest-capacity room that can accommodate 350 delegates in theatre style. The space can also be divided and used as two separate rooms. The Boardrooms next door were also used for workshops and have the same flexibility. All four additional rooms were used throughout the day for breakout sessions, with a variety of seating formats.

Dining in our stylish self-service ground-floor restaurant, delegates enjoyed fine local and global fare from a range of menus designed to suit the organiser’s budget. There is a great range on offer from hot-buffet options to an extensive salad bar, desserts and fruit and to drink a range of fruit juices, tea and coffee.

A profile of an event organiser
From turning a banqueting suite into a series of sand-filled desert islands for a swimwear launch to organising some of the largest academic conferences in the country, Sarah Jane Johnston can certainly turn her hand to anything the events world can throw at her.

The 37 year old is conference and events manager for Edinburgh First, the commercial division of the University of Edinburgh’s Accommodation Services. The organisation opened its brand new £9 million John McIntyre Conference Centre in September 2009 – a state-of-the-art facility that has seen over 50,000 delegates though its doors and aims to bring even more top-level seminars and functions to the Scottish capital.

Sarah-Jane heads up a team of eight at Edinburgh First and oversees the delivery of over 2,000 events every year ranging from training courses and meetings for small groups to conferences for up to 1,000 delegates.

For Sarah-Jane, the new John McIntyre Centre at Edinburgh First is the icing on the cake and she is excited about the possibilities the facility brings for her job and a career that she would wholeheartedly recommend.

Originally from Nottingham in the East Midlands, Sarah Jane left school in 1990 after completing her GCSEs and started work in the reception and communications department of the town’s Further Education College. At the same time, she completed a number of evening classes in subjects she felt would help her develop her career, from Microsoft Office to web design and even Chinese Mandarin.

Her ultimate goal was to move into event management – her dream job so she started working for eight hours a week organising events on a voluntary basis for the British Red Cross to gain experience. This helped her to take her first steps on the event management career ladder – a dedicated events officer’s job at East Midlands Conference Centre

Six years ago, Sarah Jane and her husband Peter visited Scotland on holiday, fell in love with the country and decided to relocate. An events role at the University soon followed with Sarah-Jane heading up a team of three. She has now helped to build a conference and events arm that deals with between 38 and 65 pieces of business every week and is a central part of Edinburgh University’s commercial activities.

Sarah-Jane said: “This is a great job but you do need to pay attention to every little detail and have a very positive approach to your role. Having a “can-do” attitude may sound like a bit of a cliché, but in this job it’s really important. You need to present clients with ideas and solutions and have to become as excited about their event as they are.”

Passion for her role is something that’s obvious with Sarah-Jane. As well as her full-time job, she has also teaches event management in the evenings to students at Edinburgh’s Telford College.

As for her spare time, Sarah-Jane works hard for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust – organising fundraising events,
of course!

For more information